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Skating Cheaply

In keeping with my South Yorkshire roots, I'd like to return to one of my favourite themes, which might best be described as fiscal restraint — or perhaps audio austerity, if you prefer. Now don't get me wrong, I'm happy to spend money on something that really makes a difference, but my experience with guitars has rather turned that old adage, 'you get what you pay for', on its head.

Paul White in his studio, 2017.When I first started gigging, I had a very early Gibson SG Junior — which would probably be quite valuable now if I hadn't stripped off all the crazed cherry varnish and finished it in clear varnish before selling it on — and a '59 or '60 Strat that I used to practise my first ever re‑fret and then went on to sell for £150. And don't get me started on the John Lennon Fireglo Rickenbacker that I stripped with paint stripper, then when I soaked it in the bath to clean off the chemicals, the glue dissolved and I ended up with a guitar kit that I had to reassemble before I could repaint it. Hindsight is a wonderful thing, but in all honesty those guitars never really sounded that special. I have cheaper modern reissues of Strats and SGs that are as good if not better instruments.

My next foray into gigging saw me using a Japanese Squier Strat, which despite being cheaper, played better and sounded better than my earlier instruments. Then, a few years ago I figured that I needed both a Strat and a set‑neck, humbucker-equipped guitar. This time around I put together my own clone of Fender's finest and despite being built around a beaten‑up body I got on eBay for £25, it is still the best S‑type guitar I own. For the humbucker guitar I built my own using the sides of an antique mahogany wardrobe door to make the neck. The fret markers were made from filed‑down beads, the side markers from plastic cocktail sticks and the single mini-humbucker pickup was from Trev Wilkinson. It sounded fabulous and is one guitar I'd never sell. However, I did yield to temptation when in a music store a couple of years back and bought myself an Epiphone Blues Hawk equipped with P90s and a hum‑cancelling coil. Until very recently that became my favourite gigging instrument despite costing me just under £300.

But did the downsizing stop there? No! I always fancied the idea of building a cigar‑box guitar, and I had a suitable neck kicking around that I'd picked up on eBay some months before, so I knocked it together over a weekend, fitted a single Trev Wilkinson P90 — and it sounded amazing with the best sustain of any guitar I've ever owned. It cost peanuts to build. So now that's what I use for my live gigs where its weird appearance also gets it (and the band) noticed.

So the point of all this, which also applies to studio gear (microphones in particular), is to forget the brand names for a while and see what actually works for you, as it might not be as expensive as you think.

Paul White Editor In Chief